Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Faith and Autism

A little more to the left I thought, as I turned the web cam.  The image in the Skype window on the screen now showed a little of my desk and my head from the shoulders up.  “Lucky I shaved this morning,” I whispered to myself. 

Time to connect up.  I clicked on Jill’s contact details.  Today I was preparing to work on an article about faith and autism.  Writing articles about faith and how that plays in people’s lives has become part of my regular work life as a result of my Conversations with a Christian articles. 

Jill’s picture appeared as the connection established.  She brushed her long raven black hair away from the side of her face. Her voice carrying an American accent echoed from the desktop speakers saying, “Hello.”   

 “Hi,” I replied, hoping my microphone was setup correctly for her to understand my Australian twang.

Jill took a sip from what appeared to be a cup of tea, which prompted me to glance towards my morning coffee. I failed to realise at the time I had grabbed my daughters My Little Ponies Coffee mug from the cupboard.  I typically grab the first one in line, and I did this morning without thinking.  I quickly shoved the cup out of the camera’s eye.  I didn’t want information getting out I use a My Little Ponies coffee cup.  Next thing, people will start calling me a Brony.  A nickname for adult men who watch My Little Ponies.  Ok, I do admit, in my daughter’s younger years, I sat through one or two episodes.

“Why do people try to deconvert people?” Jill said.

“You mean the atheists in the Christian discussion groups attempting to convince people there is no God?” I replied.  That is where I virtually met Jill, in amongst several other people discussing Christianity on Facebook.

“It’s a real issue for me.” She paused. Her eyes stared off to the left focusing in the distance. “I’ve mentioned to you before that one of my teenage sons is autistic.”

“Yes, you did.” I replied.  I recollected the occasion when I discussed Rosalind Picard, director of Affective Computing at M.I.T. and works with autism. A notable quality of Rosalind is that she talks openly about her Christian faith. I continued, “Does faith help with your son’s autism?”

Her almond eyes returned to the camera and glistened with many experiences, some glittered pain, and others shined joy. “Well, it’s just that my son can feel overwhelmed at times.” She took a sip from her cup before continuing. “He’s got a lot going on in his head that none of us can relate to.” Her lips straightened. “It’s like, he’s on one side of a piece of sheer glass and we are on the other.  Separated by an invisible force.” Her fringe drooped, shrouding her eyes as her head tilted down. “Sometimes he gets really frustrated and depressed when things are out of his control or not going his way.” She returned her focus to the camera. A blank expression hid an attempt to suppress her feelings. “He says life is pointless and that he wishes his brain didn’t give him these problems.”

I stayed silent as she took a moment.  Then the strangest thing happened.  Her lips upturned into a gentle smile and her eyes sparkled with hope. “He has a book called God gave us heaven. It’s for little kids, but he likes it a lot.” Her voice carried a sense of gladness. “He gets very excited and happy about living with God one day. The book also reminds him that he has a purpose here on Earth. His life means something. It’s not pointless.”

I pondered the transformation of seeing Jill’s expression move from pain to joy inspired by hope.

She continued, “He has a fairly good understanding of basic doctrine concerning God, thanks to William Lane Craig’s children books.”  The happiness washed from her cheeks. “I would hate to see the effect those atheists would have on him.  Telling him God does not exist. Telling him he is deluded.” Her hand tightened around her cup. “Telling him he had been lied to.”  A lonesome tear welled in her eye as she added, “He cries when he reads the part there will be no more tears or sadness, only good things.” She wiped the moisture from her eye. “It really moves him a lot.”

I asked, “And what about you Jill. How does faith help you?”

“I pray for Wisdom, and strength.” She blinked longer than normal, as if giving herself time to say a silent prayer before adding, “Jesus carries me through the days and nights.”

A visual came to my mind after listening to Jill.  A child holding their favourite toy, a stuffed teddy with big fluffy ears, a large black nose and shiny auburn eyes.  A teddy that keeps the child safe during the night and contented during the day.  Then a man comes along, telling the child they don’t need the toy, the teddy isn’t real, its effects are imaginary.  The man grabs the teddy’s ear, pulling against the child’s grasp.  The child eyes flooded with tears. A moment later, they overflowed into streams cascading down his tender face. He clung onto to his source of hope with every ounce of energy he could muster as he panted for breath between gulps of sadness. Then the teddy, his best friend, was gone. Snatched, stolen from his arms, leaving him alone surrounded by the sound of his own cries.

Faith for some people is like a teddy bear to a young child.  Hope which comforts them during the night and carries them through the day.

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry1 titled Religious affiliation and suicide attempt found subjects with no religious affiliation were more often lifetime suicide attempters, reported more suicidal ideation, and were more likely to have first-degree relatives who had committed suicide than religiously affiliated subjects.

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